By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
When the University shut down in Spring 2020 because of COVID-19, so did the Honor Committee. Hearings were delayed until the fall as committee leaders, including Chambers, developed a model for virtual hearings that ensured confidentiality and, amid Zoom fatigue, engagement among participants. “We were at our wits’ end to make things happen on baseline,” says Chambers, noting that bigger picture initiatives got put on the back burner. This year, Chambers, a history major from Columbus, Georgia, is hopeful he can focus on outreach events and initiatives that ensure the Honor System is addressing the needs of the current student population. “I’m eager to see change that makes the system better,” he says.
The pandemic brought big challenges to the Judiciary Committee. Its operations went virtual when cases were rising as students faced COVID-related charges. As a vice chair who ensured students completed their sanctions, Kim, a global studies and medieval studies major from Sudbury, Massachusetts, was on the front lines. During her term as chair, Kim hopes to build the committee’s visibility and relevancy, update internal processes, and provide mental health resources for committee members. “I’m really excited to enter this position, fix as many things as I can and inspire people to love the UJC the same way I do before I go,” she says.
Voters made a historic choice when they overwhelmingly picked Liu, an economics and sociology major from San Anselmo, California. Liu is the first openly transgender student government president in the United States who was out when elected. The outcome, he says, “is a clear indication that students rejected a transphobic narrative and instead chose an open and inclusive way forward.” Liu sees the role of Student Council as a negotiating agency for the student body, and he plans to work with administrators on initiatives that make a direct impact on students’ lives, particularly providing more mental health resources. “Our real power lies in bargaining outside Student Council,” he says.
As COVID-19 highlighted inequities and left many in isolation, UVA’s resident advisers looked for even small ways to safely engage with students. “We really had to stop and reflect on how we can make housing a home, and being a home requires us to understand where our residents are coming from and meet residents where they are,” says Hart, a political psychology major from Las Vegas. In the coming year, with revamped staff training and plans to recruit more diverse RAs, Hart hopes the focus can shift to addressing those racism, multiculturalism and inclusion issues more directly “in a way that’s not only genuine but actually effective,” she says.
Like everything else, UVA’s resident staff shifted to virtual meetings and prerecorded content during COVID. And while Smith, a drama major from Clarksville, Virginia, is eager to return to in-person meetings, he also hopes to take advantage of new opportunities through Zoom and other platforms to continue some of those virtual sessions. They provide an effective way to offer a broader range of programs for staff, he says. But, after a year of digital meetups, the biggest challenge, he says, will be helping staff and residents feel connected again and ensuring that “everyone feels that their story is heard and validated.”
Mehta, who is in UVA’s politics honors program, is eager to elevate the voices of students and others before UVA’s governing board. “Now, more than ever, with the pandemic, students can feel isolated or they can feel like they’re not being listened to,” says Mehta of Austin. “Being a student member, you have the ability to give everybody that platform and represent our student body.” At the same time, even as some normalcy returns, she says she hopes to look for ways to capitalize on lessons learned during the pandemic, “using this as a way to grow and be better than we were.”
COVID-19 accelerated decisions among the Cavalier Daily’s leaders to cut back its print editions, moving from weekly issues to an every-other-week print schedule in the fall. “We’re shifting more toward a news magazine,” says Brice, an English major from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and prioritizing daily online coverage and shareable content on social media. “That’s where students really are,” she says. Going forward, the challenge will be to continue to find ways to engage with readers, amplify voices that have historically been marginalized, highlight UVA’s change-makers, create a newsroom culture that supports a diverse staff and, she says, “just build community through our reporting.”